Members Online: 431

William Shedden Ralston's Biography (Books)

William Ralston Shedden-Ralston (1828-1889), born William Shedden and later known as William Ralston, was a noted British scholar and translator of Russia and Russian.

William Ralston Shedden-Ralston born on 4 April 1828 in York Terrace, Regent's Park, London, he was the only son of W. P. Ralston Shedden, who made his fortune as a merchant in Calcutta and set up home in Palmira Square, Brighton, when he returned to England. William spent most of his early years there. Together with three or four other boys he studied under the Rev. John Hogg of Brixham, Devonshire, until he went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1846, where he graduated with a BA in 1850.

During this period William's father entered into a lengthy but unsuccessful litigation over his claim to Ralston estates in Ayrshire. The cost dissipated his fortune. The family pressed the claim for many years. Shedden's only sister took up the pleadings, and at one stage conducted the case before a committee of the House of Lords for more than thirty days. William had been called to the bar before the litigation began, but the change in the family's fortunes forced him to seek immediate remunerative employment. He also adopted the additional surname of Shedden.

In 1853 he went to work as a junior assistant in the printed-book department of the British Museum, where his zeal and ability won the respect of his superiors. The work began with the requisite two years copying titles for the printed books catalogue, and thereafter he rose slowly through the ranks. When he saw a need for someone who could catalogue Russian books, he began studying Russian, and even learned pages of the dictionary by heart.

He also studied Russian literature. He translated 93 of Ivan Andreevich Krylov's two hundred fables, and this work, published in 1868 as Krilof and his Fables, ran to numerous editions. The following year he brought out a translation of Ivan Turgenev's Nest of Gentlefolk as Liza; in 1872, his 439-page Songs of the Russian People as Illustrative of Slavonic Mythology and Russian Social Life, and in 1873 a bloodthirsty collection of Russian Folk Tales. He made two or three journeys to Russia, formed numerous literary acquaintances there, and had a lasting friendship with Turgenev. He also became a corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg. He visited Serbia twice, and made numerous visits to Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland.

In 1874 he published Early Russian History, the substance of four lectures delivered at the Taylor Institution in Oxford. His visits to Russia were mainly to collect material for another, more comprehensive account. Having contracted for its publication with Messrs. Cassell & Co, at the last moment he allowed them to cancel the agreement and publish instead Donald Mackenzie Wallace's book Russia.

He also possessed a gift for narrating stories orally. He devised a novel form of public entertainment, telling stories to large audiences in lecture-halls, making several successful appearances at St. George's Hall (for the Sunday Lecture Society) and St James's Halls. He gave story-tellings to the young princes and princesses at Marlborough House, and to other social gatherings; and also, in aid of charities, to audiences in east London and the provinces.

His health failing, he resigned from the British Museum in 1875 and sought to devote himself to literary work, but he was susceptible to acute depression and became increasingly withdrawn. Nevertheless he wrote for the Athen'um magazine and the Saturday Review, as well as the Nineteenth Century and other magazines.

Early in 1889 he moved to 11 North Crescent, London, where he was found dead in bed on 6 August the same year. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery. He was unmarried.